PHILLIPSBURG, N.J., April 18 (UPI) -- A group of New Jersey high school wrestlers who posed with a hanging dummy for a photo that went viral will not face criminal charges, a prosecutor says.
The incident in February involved eight members of the team at Phillipsburg High School. The dark-colored wrestling dummy was wearing a Paulsboro High School T-shirt, and at least two of the Phillipsburg wrestlers appeared to have pointed hoods in an echo of Ku Klux Klan outfits so that the photo suggested a lynching.
The two high schools are both wrestling powerhouses and rivals. While Phillipsburg in rural western New Jersey is more than 80 percent white, Paulsboro in southern Gloucester County is more than one-third black.
Warren County Prosecutor Richard Burke said Thursday any further punishment is up to Phillipsburg school officials.
"Based upon the evidence obtained and the concurrence of the Attorney General's Office after reviewing the investigative file, no criminal charges will be filed at this time," Burke said in a statement.
Scott Wilhelm, a lawyer representing the teens, accused school officials of treating them unfairly. He said they were punished once and then given a more severe punishment after the photo became public. The penalties included three-day suspensions and being banned from an individual interscholastic wrestling tournament.
“They and their parents are a little more suspect and distrusting of the school district, because the school district’s word is not their bond,” Wilhelm said.
Wilhelm said a lawsuit brought by a Paulsboro student is "frivolous."